Alumni Spotlight: Aaras Shah

Aaras Shah is the Associate Director of Finance at Zeta Charter Schools, an organization whose mission is to build and sustain high-performing schools that forge thriving communities of lifelong learners, problem solvers, and innovators. At Zeta, Aaras leads budgeting, accounting, and financial analysis for the organization. Previously, he worked at Bain & Company as a Senior Associate Consultant where he focused on strategy and cost-work for Fortune 500 clients across a variety of industries. Aaras got his start working with charter schools at KIPP DC as a Strategic Projects Extern supporting their academic team. He graduated from McCombs in 2015 with degrees in Canfield BHP and finance. We caught up with Aaras recently and talked about his experiences at Zeta and how Canfield BHP helped prepare him for his journey.

Tell us a little bit about your current role at Zeta Charter Schools.

Zeta is a startup charter school network in New York City. We opened our first schools this past fall and have a very ambitious growth plan. I came on as the first full-time financial employee to help build our finance function. As part of that, I do everything across the board, from the smallest tasks to helping define our biggest strategic goals. That involves everything from ensuring we have enough money in our bank account and paying our vendors on-time to developing our current year and long-term financial budgets. In real estate – as we look to grow our network – we need to find buildings to accommodate our students, so I’ve been working on a number of real estate deals since I’ve been out here – just generally overseeing all things financially with the organization. Being in a startup, I’m also involved in a variety of different initiatives across the board just because that’s basically how start-ups work. I’ve helped set up our procurement system, developed our data dashboards, assisted with hiring, and even spent time tutoring some of the first graders in math. I basically have the opportunity to help out in many aspects beyond just what my title might imply.

What were/are your inspirations and how did it lead you to where you are today?

Growing up, my family always placed a large emphasis on education. My older sister is also a UT graduate. She went into education for her career and that sparked my interest. While at UT I was involved with Texas Blazers, an organization that worked very closely with a local underprivileged high school. I got to see firsthand some of the disparities in education between my own and others. My interest grew through those experiences, and as I spent my time at Bain – although I didn’t focus on the social impact of education necessarily – I stayed involved through consistent volunteering or pro-bono project work. After a few years at Bain, I had the opportunity to take an externship in that space and that’s how I found myself at KIPP in Washington, DC. There I knew I wanted to jump in full time, both because there was a lot of opportunity and because I felt confident that I could make a difference. I then stumbled upon Zeta, which seemed like a great fit and was actually recommended to me by another former Canfield BHP student. Since I’ve been here, being able to see that we’re making a difference in students’ lives everyday has reaffirmed my interest in working in education long-term.

What do you enjoy most about working for an organization like Zeta Charter Schools?

The most important thing is the mission. That vision is really powerful and inspirational to me and I see plenty of that in what our teachers are doing and in what our school leaders are doing. I think that the opportunity to be working in an organization that’s so focused on such a mission is pretty powerful. Combining that with the team they put together and the level of responsibility that I’ve been able to take on has made it a great role. It’s been an incredible challenge but it’s something that I have felt prepared for thanks in large part to my time spent at Canfield BHP.

How do you think your BHP and Finance degrees from UT aided you in what you are doing?

Tactically, just through the finance coursework, it’s brought me a lot of familiarity with many of the responsibilities that I oversee. When building our budget, I’m reminded by what the power of compounding will do to our expenses over time based on my practice with financial modeling from MIS301 with Professor Konana. Those are some of the basics that I got more tactically. Then, there’s the fact that my job is not just restricted to finance. That’s where having that really strong, general business background has made a huge difference because I can go back to the lessons I learned in BA324 when I’m focused on helping out with hiring, for example. I can think about MIS when helping out with our data dashboards, or operations when I’m thinking about procurement, so having a general business background has just been incredibly valuable. Beyond that – the emphasis on teamwork and team projects – that really drove learning how to communicate with others who may have different priorities than you or different backgrounds. Getting that experience in all of my Canfield BHP classes has been so valuable and relevant to working in this type of role.

Any advice for current students?

It’s easy to get caught up in seeing how everyone seems to have what they’re doing “figured out” so early on. Whether that’s the exact professional interest or even something like getting an internship early, I think that you’ll find that with the skills you’re developing and the relationships you’re creating within Canfield BHP – if you allow yourself to explore what you like – you’re going to be able to make a pretty good career out of it and you’ll be able to make a big impact in whatever it is that you do. Don’t stress out so much about how everyone else has their stuff together because you’re going to do just fine with the education that you’re getting right now.

Alumni Spotlight: Phil Canfield

In the thirty years since Phil Canfield graduated from the University of Texas with degrees in Business Honors and Finance, much has changed in the world, in Austin, and on our campus. We begin our conversation discussing the increasing number of hipsters in the city (we are meeting during SXSW, after all) and then move into talking about the dynamic relationship between artificial intelligence and business. Despite this rapid evolution, Mr. Canfield agrees that one thing has remained constant: The caliber of the Business Honors Program and the benefit of receiving a Business Honors degree.

“The BHP was a small group within a large university, which allowed for teamwork and the ability for us to have a small cohort of really bright students that I could work with, learn from, test ideas out, and play ideas off of each other. It was seamless going from that environment to sitting at a desk at Kidder, Peabody, and Co. working on financial models and being part of a deal team,” Mr. Canfield shares. Throughout our conversation, we keep coming back to this theme of the strong relationships students build with each other through their time in the program. He believes these tightknit relationships are one part of what make the honors program unique. “It’s not just the friendships, it’s also learning how to work with other people,” he says. “Also, the faculty. Those are the two things that make a great learning experience: A great group of engaged students whom you know and build relationships with combined with a faculty that pushes you, teaches you things that perhaps weren’t intuitive, that surprise you, and importantly, a faculty that is doing research in areas that are going to be important for the future.”

Mr. Canfield vividly remembers being pushed and challenged in his honors classes. When asked about his favorite memory, he laughs and says he doesn’t have a favorite memory, but he definitely has a class that he remembers the most. “I think everybody who comes to BHP is used to making A’s. So, we had this Operations Research class, and I remember about 4 weeks into the class, I was sitting with my group of 5 or 6 friends that we studied with and 2 or 3 of them really got it in a way that I didn’t. And I realized that I wasn’t going to get it. It was the only class at UT in my entire 4 years where I said, ‘You know what, I think I’m shooting for a B in this class.’ And it’s so funny because I think about that all the time; it’s the only time I’ve ever just stepped back and said, ‘Wow, there’s something about the way that they think that’s different than the way I think. This makes sense to them and this is really hard for me.’”

Mr. Canfield believes the difficulties that honors students face together, like challenging courses, are what allow the close friendships to form. “BHP is an intense program. Any time a group of people go through something with that intensity together, they create a bond. The great thing about bonds like that is they really stand the test of time.” As an example, he recalls calling his BHP peers when it came time for him to think about what he was going to do after his first two years in investment banking. “It was useful for me to be able to call friends of mine who I had this shared experience with,” he says. “At the time, most people only worked for two years and then went and got an MBA, and I was thinking about not doing that. That’s a big decision, it’s the kind of decision where there aren’t that many people you can really talk to about it.”

After two years at Kidder, Peabody, and Co., Mr. Canfield joined GTCR, a private equity firm. After two years as an associate there, he started thinking about getting his MBA. “At the time in private equity, there were very few people who did not have an MBA. I felt like as long as I stayed on track at GTCR, working with people I knew and who knew what I was capable of doing, things would probably be fine; but I had this nagging concern that there was more that I could know, so I decided to pursue an MBA.” Mr. Canfield started at the University of Chicago Booth School on a part-time basis, working full-time during the day and taking classes in the evening. “That didn’t last too long,” he chuckles. Eventually, he took two quarters off from work to finish his degree.

Reflecting on his experience in the MBA program, he recalls how prepared he was for the curriculum and how his past BHP classes allowed him to customize his MBA degree. “I was incredibly well-prepared. In fact, I got to skip a lot of the intro-level, first-year MBA classes. The neat thing about that was that it enabled me to quickly go to the higher-level classes and get a dual concentration in finance and accounting. I probably would not have been able to do that if I didn’t have the BHP background. The BHP enabled me to get a more broad experience when I did decide to go get an MBA, and it allowed me to tailor that experience more to what I felt I needed for my career.”

Mr. Canfield is now a successful Managing Director at GTCR, a leadership position he has held since 2007. He and his wife Mary Beth are also devoted philanthropists who focus on education. In November 2018, we celebrated the official naming of the Canfield Business Honors Program in the McCombs School of Business after a generous donation from the Canfields. They believe that contributing to education has the highest return on investment. “In my deepest part of my heart and soul, I’m an investor. I think, ‘Let’s do something early, let’s make an investment, let’s put capital into something, and then let’s see that have a return over a long period of time.’ For me, investing in someone’s education is exactly the same thing. I’ve always felt like it’s really important for our society to support getting everyone an opportunity to have a great education. I also think it’s a great investment that enables people to do something really fantastic.”

In closing, Mr. Canfield offers the following words of advice for our current students: “Enjoy the experience, but also make sure that whatever you choose to concentrate in, really make sure you focus on the fundamentals of that concentration.” He talks about Novak Djokovic, the best tennis player in the world, and how he drills and works the fundamentals with a hitting partner and his coach. “Why does he do that?  Because those fundamental skills need to happen automatically. If your concentration is accounting, then you need to work on it so hard that it is just intuitive to you. The test of knowing the fundamentals in a particular topic is you can look at a problem that you’ve never seen anything like it before, and you can intuit how it must have to work. That’s when you know you really understand it at the detailed level and the abstract level because you can take all the stuff you know about that particular topic and say, ‘Well, I’ve never seen this particular area before, but it must work this way.’ In business, to succeed in your career, you need to be functioning at that level.”

He also has some advice for prospective Canfield BHP students that we wholeheartedly agree with: “You should come here because it’s the best undergraduate business program in the country. You will learn a tremendous amount, you’ll make great friends, and it will serve you very well in your career.”

Watch the video celebrating the newly named Canfield Business Honors Program here.

Alumni Spotlight: Shara Ticku

Shara Ticku

Featured: Banking, Sustainable Technology, Healthcare Industry, MBA

Shara Ticku is the co-founder and CEO of C16 Biosciences, which uses microbiology to brew a sustainable alternative to palm oil. Previously, Shara worked at Goldman Sachs before attending Harvard Business School for her MBA. She graduated from McCombs in 2010 with degrees in Business Honors and Plan II Honors, and she credits this combination with building her ability to communicate and work in teams. Read more about Shara’s fascinating journey from banking to healthcare to combating climate change with her own company.

You have held a variety of positions in different industries and now you’re the co-founder for a sustainable technology firm. Can you walk me through where you’ve been and how you got to where you are today? 

It’s been really fun. My first job after UT was on the trading floor at Goldman Sachs. I had an internship there one summer in college and really loved it – I loved the high energy of the trading floor, I loved how working in markets requires you to know about all the macro and micro news worldwide, and I had great relationships with my team and clients. But ultimately, I realized that I didn’t fundamentally care very much about public equity market. I spent about a year reflecting on what mattered to me — do I need to be in a job that I’m passionate about? or is a good, fun job enough? Ultimately, I realized it was the former — it was really important to me to spend my days working on something that I cared about, and I’m incredibly lucky that I’m able to pursue something that I love. For me, that meant working in healthcare/biology. I’ve spent most of my career since Goldman working in healthcare — both globally (at the United Nations and the Clinton Health Access Initiative) and domestically (Progyny, a fertility benefits company). Healthcare has been such an interesting market, because I’ve always felt like I was working on market failures. In my work at the Clinton Health Access Initiative, I worked on one market failure: the drug development model and the impacts that has on drug pricing and access worldwide, particularly in developing markets. I got to work with Big Pharma on interesting incentive structures to increase access to basic medicines at affordable prices in developing countries. From there, I was hooked on market failures. When I went to business school, I was interested in another market failure — why is there so much innovation that happens in academic research labs that never gets commercialized? And what are the different levers we can pull to help change that? That’s how I ended up founding C16 Biosciences.

What is c16 Biosciences and what work are you doing there? 

C16 Biosciences uses microbiology to produce a sustainable alternative to palm oil. I’m the co-founder/CEO. Why are we working on this problem? Palm oil is the most popular vegetable oil in the world, found in 50% of products on supermarket shelves, in everything from shampoo to Nutella. It’s a $60 billion industry and a really valuable oil. But the industry drives 10% of greenhouse gas emissions each year in order to make palm oil. Over 250 CPGs and 9 countries have made public commitments to stop using “conflict” palm oil, but they’ve failed because there has been no viable alternative until now. C16 Bio makes a bio-based palm oil that’s sustainable, but also competes on cost and quality.  We started working on the company about 1.5 years ago and we are hoping to launch our first products within the next year.

What inspired you to start c16 Biosciences? 

I actually wasn’t looking to start a company of my own, but rather my co-founders and I came to this problem as humans who saw a big problem in the world.  My co-founder Harry and I both had witnessed the negative externalities of palm oil first-hand. I was on a trip to Singapore when I was working at Goldman. Indonesia is one of major producers of palm oil in the world. Each year, Indonesia burns its forest to clear the land and make way for new oil palm trees. That year, the smoke and haze from these forest fires in Indonesia were so bad that flights were grounded, schools were canceled, and pregnant women were not even allowed to walk outside. I didn’t understand how we could accept all of this just to make a vegetable oil. So my co-founders and I dug into the problem and tried to understand why traditional agriculture had not been able to solve this problem in the past. Instead, we asked if microbiology could solve the problem. The three of us believe strongly that microorganisms are the factories of the future, and palm oil seemed like the perfect market. Over 250 companies had made public commitments to replace palm oil, but they had failed to progress toward their goals because the market wasn’t able to produce a viable alternative. When we identified an organism and a production process that could produce a cost-competitive, sustainable alternative to palm, we knew this was something we wanted to spend our time building.

How did you decide to pursue an MBA, and how is your degree informing what you do today? 

Considering I had a BBA, I didn’t seek out an MBA for specific skill acquisition. I went to get an MBA for two reasons: to develop my network and to transition from global health/life sciences to domestic health/life sciences. Going to HBS provided me with the platform to pursue a new space, the connections and network to learn about that space and seek out interesting job opportunities, and (most importantly) to spend two years focused on myself. Once you start working, you feel like the race has begun — you’re constantly seeking more (money, advancement, etc.). It’s really difficult to find time to focus on better, which is a real luxury of going to grad school. Getting an MBA wasn’t cheap, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It allowed me to hop off the treadmill for a bit, to focus on what is really meaningful for me, and to chase after that dream.

How do you think your Business Honors and Plan II degrees aided you in what you are doing? 

The smaller class sizes and interactive natures of the classes definitely help with communication and ability to work in teams. Additionally, I was constantly surrounded by a tight group of incredibly sharp people who challenged each other to constantly do better and be better. But more than anything, I just loved Canfield BHP and Plan II – high quality classmates, small classes, fun topics. I wouldn’t have done it any other way.

Any advice for current students? 

Internships are a free chance to learn while building experience. I did internships everywhere from the State Capitol to Wall Street to local magazines. If you’re curious about a field, go try it for a summer or a semester. For so many reasons, it becomes much harder to change paths once you’re out working full-time. Also, most people want to help students – take advantage of your email address to reach out to people and just learn about their job and industry. Spend some time thinking about what you really want out of a job. We spend most of our waking hours at work — and as an early stage startup founder, I work all day, every day. I don’t think about “work” anymore — I think about how I spend my time. It’s worth thinking really hard about what motivates you and how you want to spend most of your days.

BA 151 Lyceum Students Receive Priceless Advice from Alum

Written by Victoria Bennett

In a recent BA 151H Honors Lyceum class, the sophomores were visited by Mandy Price, Co-Founder and CEO at Kanarys, Inc. An alumnae of both the Canfield Business Honors Program and Harvard Law School, Price shared how her background working in financial services and practicing law led to her current passions and career path. Throughout the question-and-answer based discussion, Price not only shared her own unique story, but gave students insights into how to navigate their own interests during their time in CBHP and after graduation.

During her time on the Forty Acres, Ms. Price studied Finance in addition to the Business Honors curriculum. She was involved in multiple organizations on campus, and spent her summers interning in financial services. These experiences gave her practical experience in her field of study and also allowed her to consider whether or not she saw herself in these roles after graduation.

Immediately following her graduation in 2003, Price continued her education at Harvard Law School. From the content to the teaching style, she described how law school provided a very different learning experience from her undergraduate education and how this helped her grow and develop. One thing her undergraduate and graduate education had in common was the community. She described how she found community with other Texans at Harvard Law, many of whom were Texas Exes, who would do everything from watch football games together to host professional events.

Upon graduating from law school, Price began her professional career as a corporate attorney at Weil, Gotshal, & Manges LLP. She described how her career in corporate law gave her the unique opportunity to combine her education in both finance and law. In her 10 years at the company, she worked on numerous mergers & acquisitions where she was able to bring her unique financial understanding to her work. Following her time at this firm, she also worked at Barnes & Thronburg LLP where she was a partner working primarily with private equity firms.

Although Price enjoyed her time practicing law, her experiences on various firm committees (e.g. Diversity Committee, Woman’s Task Force and Hiring Committee), highlighted the challenges organizations face when it comes to diversity and inclusion issues.  This led her to the creation of her company, Kanarys, Inc., a social enterprise focused on helping organizations build more inclusive cultures. The company is a direct response to the issues Price saw in the workplace, and the company has a goal of using data to create a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable work environment worldwide.

After the class session, the sophomore class left feeling inspired by Mandy Price and her story. She used her unique career path to talk candidly to the students about the importance of exploring academic interests and acknowledged that everyone’s path both through and after their time in CBHP will look different. In addition, her story of seeing a problem in her day-to-day life and creating her own company to create a solution, showed students that they can make real change in the world around them.


Alumni Spotlight: Ethan Perez – Software Engineer, Peloton

Ethan Perez

Featured: Sports/Fitness, Technology, Computer Science, Graduate School

Ethan Perez is a software engineer at Peloton Interactive, where he works to bring the company’s fitness content to the web. Previously, Ethan was a software engineer at DraftKings, a daily online fantasy sports contest platform. He graduated from McCombs in 2016 with degrees in BHP and Management Information Systems, and has continued advancing his computer science knowledge by enrolling in the Georgia Tech Online Master of Computer Science program. We recently caught up with Ethan to learn about his experience in tech and how it intersects with sports and fitness.

You have done numerous technology roles in various industries. Can you walk me through where you’ve been and how you got to where you are today?

After graduating, I went to work as a Software Engineer at DraftKings in Boston. I found that opportunity through the Technology and Science Career Fair – at that point, I already knew that I wanted to be in a more technical role, and the intersection of sports and technology felt like a great fit. I spent two years at DraftKings, and learned a great deal about working in the industry. I recently made the move to NYC, which has been a dream of mine, and am currently working at Peloton in a similar role.

Peloton started out as an indoor bike company in 2014, but has rapidly grown beyond that. The company has been looking to bring its fitness content onto more devices than just the original bike to broaden the experiences it can give, and most of that has been focused on mobile device experiences. I joined Peloton about 4 months ago, and have been working to bring that idea to life on the Web – and we just launched our Digital Content on the Web at the beginning of October!

What do you enjoy most about technical roles?

At the core of it, technologically driven roles are about problem solving at a granular level, where the results are very immediate. I think that immediacy of improvement creates a very quick feedback loop, and you are able to see value building right in front of you. The first time I realized this was during my time as a member of Texas 4000 at UT; I built a pretty simple management system that cut some of our manual processing flow out, and the extreme joy that came out of that saved time is a feeling I’ll always come back to.

How were you successful in finding technical roles with your business background? What would you encourage current students to do?

Once I got that kick of joy from seeing the value some technological skills brought to Texas 4000, I knew that I wanted to start out my career by being hands-on and directly building value through technology. Because I was already fully ingrained in McCombs and BHP, I knew that I would have to turn to alternative outlets to supplement that technical skillset. I spent a lot of time outside of the classroom building side projects and attempting to learn CS fundamentals like algorithms and data structures. However, I believe my passion and interest for building value through software was the biggest reason I was able to land a software engineering job out of school. Looking back, I didn’t know nearly as much as my peers who had a more technical academic background, but I think the companies and interviewers saw that I expressed genuine interest in the industry and brought some curiosity to the table.

What inspired you to obtain your MS in Computer Science, and what has your experience in graduate school been like?

I am enrolled in the Georgia Tech Online Master of Computer Science (OMSCS), and it’s precisely the reason that I am able to work and continue a formal education that attracted me to the program. As I mentioned, I lacked a decent amount of computer science foundational knowledge. OMSCS is a program that has allowed me to build knowledge in core parts of my industry that I was curious about, but not knowledgeable enough to know how to start learning. It also gives me the opportunity to continue learning new technologies and techniques from a great engineering school – I am currently on a Machine Learning track, and that allows me to keep my technical knowledge moving forward.

How do you think your BHP and MIS degrees from UT aided you in what you are doing?

I think BHP and MIS were both foundational to the start of my career. I have been working in consumer technology products for almost three years, and the biggest challenges I have encountered have always been between humans, not with computers. BHP and MIS both gave me extraordinary opportunities to build a skillset that has allowed me to make technical and business connections and also to see the ramifications of actions beyond a technical level. As someone who aspires to lead, build, and grow teams in the future, I think that skillset is extremely important to my growth.

Any advice for current students?

Care about your peers and coworkers. It’s a noticeable quality, and it is something that will allow you to trust and be trusted in the workplace. You will probably spend more time with your coworkers than most others in your life, so I believe it is important to grow and nurture those relationships. I have created life-long friends in workplaces, and they have increased my quality of life by magnitudes. Regardless of what professional goals you may have, caring for and about your coworkers will never let you down.